Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: More than a year with the Amazon Kindle

First off, let me repeat my standard Amazon disclaimer. I'm an Amazon Affiliate. If you go to Amazon via some link of mine and buy anything from them within 24 hours, some of your purchase price goes to me (about 6% on average). It doesn't cost you any more to buy the item but instead of all the money going to some big faceless corporation in Seattle, some of it goes to a bike riding guy in Issaquah, WA. And by the way, everybody I know who works at Amazon has a face as well and if Amazon is big and successful it seems to have something to do with them being pretty damn smart.

But, I digress. Expect a lot of digressions ahead. For your first digression, you can read the review of the Kindle I wrote back in March of 2010. Everything I wrote there still holds true and if you read that I won't feel the need to repeat the things I've covered there.

I'm still totally happy with my Kindle. It's a handy damn piece of technology that just plain works. Yep, newer ones are out now that do a bit more stuff or do the existing things better. And yeah, the price has dropped. Right now, if I busted or lost my Kindle, I'd replace it with a Graphite 6" Kindle 3G+Wi-Fi. If I wanted to save a few bucks, I might get the version that's a bit cheaper because it displays ads on the screen-saver. You can read hundreds of reviews of the various flavors of the Kindles on the net but everything I'm going to mention in this review relates to stuff that I've done with my older Kindle.

The first thing to understand about a Kindle is that it makes it super easy to carry a lot of virtual books with you. Going on vacation or a bike tour or headed to the coffee shop or the dentist's office? Bring a Kindle an you can have the latest 1000 page best seller, some essays from Emerson, a pulp stories from the 1950s, the book from a South African novelist that won't see print in the US for another 6 months...you get the idea. Of course Amazon's store makes it really easy to buy stuff for the Kindle but you can also load up on free books from sites like http://mnybks.net/ or http://m.gutenberg.org/.

The Kindle can make reading both more private (if you want) or more public (if you want). On the subway, reading your Kindle, nobody knows if you're reading Gibbon's Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire or the latest story of teen vampires from Stephanie Meyer. But, if you're one of those people (like me) who likes to share interesting lines you find in a book or jot down notes, the Kindle total has that aspect of reading down. Not only can you highlight text and jot notes, but you can share those notes and highlights via Twitter. Again, this is something you can do, but you don't have to do. But via Twitter I've learned of new writers, found new books and generally broadened my reading experience.

Here's an example. I'm a fan of William Gibson and I follow him on Twitter. He goes silent when he's working on a new book, but once the manuscript is in the hands of the publisher or he's out on a book tour he's out there tweeting away. So I knew when Zero History was coming out last fall and I pre-ordered it on my Kindle and it appeared magically there (because we're living in the freakin future, folks). And I completely enjoyed it and tweeted out some excerpts and maybe some folks followed those links and bought some more copies of Bill's book. Good for Bill. BTW, it's a damn good book.

At various times William Gibson raved about the novels of Lauren Beukes and while her paper novels at the time were not for sale in the US, I was able to get the Kindle versions for less than $5 each and I was blown away by her way with a story. BTW, Lauren recently won the Arthur C. Clarke award for Science Fiction for her novel Zoo City, so I guess I wasn't the only one blown away.

Of course I've found some duds in my Kindle reading but another neat thing with the Kindle is that you can download samples from most books to get a feel for them. Also, many authors are releasing their out-of-print backstock titles on the Kindle for free or at low prices to help drum up demand for their newer titles. And small, indie authors are publishing straight to the Kindle. Some of these books are very good and about 70% of the sale price goes to the author. I took a $3 chance on indie author Ray Doty and bought Out of the Black. For the price of a cup of fancy coffee I got a great thriller and Ray made a couple of bucks.

Reading on the Kindle is great. Battery life is terrific and I hear the battery life is about twice as good on the new ones. The new screen is supposed to be even crisper but the screen on my Kindle is a joy to read on even in full daylight. Another advantage of the Kindle is that you can pick a comfortable font size, so if you want all your books can be large print books. The Kindle doesn't have a backlight and while reading lights are available, I sometimes use a headlamp. More often for night reading, I actually usually use the Kindle software on my ARCHOS 32. There is also free Kindle software for iPhones, iPads, Droids, PCs and what have you. The neat thing is that the software keeps your place in whatever you're reading, no matter what device you are on. Whenever I switch between devices, Amazon keeps track of where I am. (And yes, that is kind of creepy!)

While the Kindle is, first and foremost, a book reader, there are some handy apps and services you can access via the "experimental" web browser. My 3G Kindle has free wireless connection to the internet and yes, it's really free. I've paid for my Kindle and I've paid for books I've bought, but I've never had to pay anything to access the net via my Kindle. And that's a really handy thing.

Here are a few useful Kindle sites:

http://www.kindletwit.com/ -- This site lets me browse and post to Twitter via my Kindle.

http://kindlefish.t15.org/kfishdx.html -- This site uses Google to translate between various languages.

http://maps.google.com/m/directions -- A simple link to the Google Directions.

There are also some handy applications and games available for the Kindle, costing anywhere from $1 to $3. I've found Notepad, Easy Calculator and Calendar Pro to be worthwhile and both Christine and I are hooked on the word game Panda Poet.

In the year-plus that I've had my Kindle, it's gone with me on various bike trips, tours to the backwoods and trips to Portland. When Christine and I went to Lopez Island last fall, our Kindles went with us. The Kindles have held up fine and are still going strong.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA



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